Mathletes solving key to success

up close practice math
Sophomores Owen Hoephner (front left), Brian Greene and freshman Justin Wang practice after school for upcoming competitions in the Mathlete’s season.

By Deanna Shilkus
Executive In-Depth Editor
Time is well spent as Mathlete members stay after school cramming in last-minute practice sessions only to head off to the bus in one hour. At 4 p.m., the bus leaves to travel to other schools in the local area so Mathletes can compete in their year-long NSML (North Suburban Math League) competitions.
NSML meets are scheduled competitions against other district and surrounding area high schools. Students compete in contests where a worksheet of math problems, consisting of the chosen topic, must be completed in the time allowed.
With 30 to 35 students in Mathletes this year ranging from freshman to senior, almost double that of last year, competitions are a huge deal.
When Mathletes is busy practicing for a competition, the coaches walk around the practice room and ask students if they are fully prepared with understanding the material needed to compete.

Whoever feels they are prepared enough will compete, and if a person doesn’t feel they are ready, then hopefully someone else will step in and compete in their place.
Near the middle of the school year and at the peak of the Mathletes season, regional contests are also in the busy schedule.
At the regional contests, organized by the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics, students compete in events such as written competitions which are 20 questions in 50 minutes, calculator events with 20 questions in 20 minutes and an eight person event with 20 questions in 20 minutes.
Preparation for this specific contest is tough because at the same time, there are still regular season competitions going on. Following this regional contest, there are also state finals in May 2010.
Junior Linda Lam competed in the first two competitions of the year when Prospect received first and second place.
When Prospect wins a competition, it is very important because everyone knows that there are schools there to compete that have been top winners for a long time, such as Stevenson HS, and to beat them out is a big reward.
According to Lam, head coach Margaret Mamsch makes a big deal out of meets against other schools in the same district because “family” is competing against each other.
For a typical competition, topics range from probability, to trigonometric equations, to functions and relations and basic geometry.
Each contestant has 30 to 40 minutes to solve a certain number of problems. Five students go into the competition and receive the same test. The score is based on how many problems each student gets right.
All Prospect Mathletes have eligibility to compete. Contestants are also based on the strongest player from the last competition.
Each meet is about five to six weeks apart, with an after school practice every Wednesday. Mathletes use worksheets and practice math problems provided by the coaches to get ready for the meets.
Mamsch feels that it is very different to coach freshmen rather than seniors because typically the freshman haven’t seen some material that is in their regular math class curriculum.
“It’s different in the sense that you might have to do more teaching before you have them actually experience the questions,” Mamsch said. Sometimes this happens with upperclassmen as well because usually they happen to choose a topic that isn’t in their regular math curriculum.

seniors mathletes
Then juniors, along with Coach Wintermute, received a certificate of participation in a math competition last year.

Sometimes practices are intense, according to Mamsch. Juniors and seniors are helping out sophomores and freshmen with math material (equations/strategies) that they may not understand, while coaches are helping other students with how to get an answer to a problem fast and effectively. The coaches try to teach these students how to figure out a problem strategically so that if they get stuck during a contest, they could figure out the answer by themselves.
Sophomore Brian Greene has gotten good advice from his coaches when he asks for help. He says they “know what they’re doing.” The biggest piece of advice that Greene has heard from his coach is to read each question carefully, “you never know what they’re asking for.”
Greene decided to join Mathletes because it sounded fun and he knew he was good at math. He thought “I might as well try it.”
“The math team is a good place where a student who is not athletically inclined can experience the competitive nature and teamwork idea of an activity in terms of academics,” Mamsch said. “Being able to compete academically is going to get them pretty far in the world if they are going to go into a science or math background.”